Bussa’s Rebellion (14–16 April 1816) was the largest slave revolt in Barbadian history. Several hundred slaves under the leadership of the African-born slave Bussa were defeated by British forces.
Bussa’s Rebellion was the first of three large-scale slave rebellions in the British West Indies that shook public faith in slavery in the years leading up to emancipation. It was followed by a large-scale rebellion in Demerara in 1823 and then by an even larger rebellion in Jamaica in 1831–32. Collectively these are often referred to as the “late slave rebellions”.
Bussa was born a free man in West Africa, and it is possible that he may have been either Igbo, or of Akan descent and was captured by African slave merchants, sold to the British, and brought to Barbados in the late 18th century as a slave. Not much is known about him and there are no records of him prior to this date. Since slave owners almost never bothered to keep detailed records about the lives of their slaves (who were considered property), virtually no biographical information about Bussa is available. Records show a slave named “Bussa” worked as a ranger on ‘Bayley’s Plantation’ in the parish of St. Philip around the time of the rebellion. This privileged position would have given Bussa much more freedom of movement than the average slave and would have made it easier for him to plan and coordinate the rebellion.
Among Bussa’s collaborators were Washington Franklin and Nanny Grigg, a senior domestic slave on Simmons’ estate, as well as other slaves, drivers and artisans. The planning was undertaken at a number of sugar estates, including Bayley’s plantation where it began. Preparation for the rebellion began soon after the House of Assembly discussed and rejected the Imperial Registry Bill in November 1815. By February 1816, the decision had been taken that the revolt should take place on 14 April, Easter Sunday. Bussa led the slaves into battle at Bayley’s on Tuesday, 16 April. He commanded some 400 freedom fighters and was killed in battle. His troops continued the fight until they were defeated by superior firepower. The rebellion failed but its impact was significant to the future of Barbados.
Bussa remains a popular and resonant figure in Barbados. In 1985, 169 years after his rebellion, the Emancipation Statue, created by Karl Broodhagen, was unveiled in Haggatt Hall, in the parish of St Michael. By an act of Parliament in 1998, Bussa was named as one of the ten National Heroes of Barbados.